Malaysian Grand Prix: Mercedes and Ferrari lead the pack in Friday practice

Whilst Mercedes topped both sessions on Friday on the opening day of the Malaysian Grand Prix weekend they did not have it their own way in either of the two practice sessions.

The dominance that Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg enjoyed in Australia looked to be under threat heading into qualifying and Sunday’s race. Ferrari seemed to have closed the gap to the defending champions in the two weeks that followed the season opener. 

Hamilton’s day was a mixed bag to say the least. The defending champion failed to set a time in the morning after facing engine issues that forced him out of the session after just four laps. The team fixed the problem with the inlet system on his power unit and gave the Brit enough time to get in some laps in the afternoon.

Despite losing time in the garage it was Hamilton that finished the day on top with a time of 1:39.790 ahead of team-mate Rosberg who topped the times in the opening session. Hamilton also lost all telemetry which added to his problems.

The main talking point throughout the day was the pace of the Ferrari. Rosberg and Kimi Raikkonen traded fastest times during the day until Hamilton jumped to the top of the times. Raikkonen’s time was just .373s slower than the ultimate pace, a clear sign of the progress that the red cars have made over the winter.

Not only did the Ferrari’s look closer to the Mercedes on the qualifying simulation, but the pace of the Ferrari’s on the high fuel race runs were extremely competitive. Sebastian Vettel had a tricky day and even spun at Turn 11, but lived to fight another day. The German opted not to do his race simulation on the option tyres. Roberto Merhi was not so lucky, beaching his Manor in the gravel which resulted in a red flag.

Tyre degradation looks like it could be a deciding factor in which way the race goes. The high temperatures played havoc with the tyres. High temperatures mixed with a slippery low grip surface made conditions difficult for the drivers. Much like last year’s race, Sunday looks like it will be a three-stop race, the rain that is never far away in Sepang will only get the track all the more slippery and difficult.

Daniil Kvyat today led the Red Bull charge, failing to take the start in Australia, finishing the afternoon fourth fastest and half a second shy of Hamilton. The Russian’s day ended on a sour note when he reported engine problems towards the end of the session which resulted in him pulling into his garage.   

Valtteri Bottas led team-mate Felipe Massa in a disappointing fifth place, a long way off the Mercedes pace. Whilst today did not go entirely to plan the team are optimistic of their chances of a podium finish on Sunday afternoon. Max Verstappen’s impressive debut season in F1 continued, outpacing team-mate Carlos Sainz by over a second in the Toro Rosso. Verstappen was closely followed by Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson and Daniel Ricciardo in the Red Bull who rounded out the top ten.

McLaren once again struggled to find any pace with their McLaren Honda package. Whilst the team struggled for pace they did not struggle for laps; between the pair over the two sessions Fernando Alonso, who is making his McLaren return this weekend, and Jenson Button managed to rack up plenty of laps, 88 to be precise. Alonso had a bizarre end to his day when a lock up at the final corner resulted in the double world champion finding himself in the pit lane instead of starting another lap.

With the tyres overheating and the circuit slippery we could be in for a shock come qualifying and race day thanks to the elements. Could we see Raikkonen or Vettel really take the fight to the dominant Mercedes pairing? Will Williams be able to find some pace over night and enjoy being on the top step of the podium for the first time since 2012? Leave your predictions below.

Free Practice 2 Result:

1Lewis HamiltonMercedes1:39.790
2Kimi RaikkonenFerrari+ 0.373
3Nico RosbergMercedes+ 0.428
4Daniil KvyatRed Bull Renault+ 0.556
5Valtteri BottasWilliams Mercedes+ 0.660
6Felipe MassaWilliams Mercedes+ 0.770
7Sebastian VettelFerrari+ 0.862
8Max VerstappenToro Rosso Renault+ 1.430
9Marcus EricssonSauber Ferrari+ 1.471
10Daniel RicciardoRed Bull Renault+ 2.009
11Pastor MaldonadoLotus Mercedes+ 2.087
12Felipe Nasr Sauber Ferrari+ 2.198
13Sergio PerezForce India Mercedes+ 2.452
14Carlos SainzToro Rosso Renault+ 2.501
15Nico HulkenbergForce India Mercedes+ 2.540
16Fernando AlonsoMcLaren Honda+ 2.716
17Jenson Button McLaren Honda+ 2.847
18Romain GrosjeanLotus Mercedes+ 3.158
19Will StevensManor Marussia+ 5.914
20Roberto MerhiManor Marussia.+ 7.439